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Leadership panel gives Robins women road map to success

Shelbie Purser, center, speaks at the senior leadership panel discussion Wednesday. The discussion was one of the Women's History Month events. The finale of the month-long celebration will be a luncheon Thursday in the officers’ club ballroom from 11:30 a.m to 1 p.m. U.S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp

Shelbie Purser, center, speaks at the senior leadership panel discussion Wednesday. The discussion was one of the Women's History Month events. The finale of the month-long celebration will be a luncheon Thursday in the officers’ club ballroom from 11:30 a.m to 1 p.m. U.S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp

Robins Air Force Base, Ga. -- Female employees came together at Robins Base Theater Wednesday to celebrate women's rise to the top.

A senior leadership panel composed of four Robins female senior leaders and sponsored by the Women's History Observance Month Committee, gave its audience a chance to learn how to reach their personal and professional goals during a two-hour lunch program.

Among the panelists were Shelbie Purser, deputy director of the 730th Aircraft Sustainment Group; Donna Frazier, deputy director of the 402nd Electronics Maintenance Group; Karen Brigance, chief engineer in the 752nd Combat Sustainment Group and Chief Master Sgt. Suzanne Clemons, chief of Security Forces at Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command.

Diane Suchan, director of the 402nd Software Maintenance Group, served as the panel moderator, asking questions that focused on the differences seen between generations of women on base, what contributions women have made to positively impact their working conditions today, as well as other related topics.

Participants were also invited to ask questions during the discussion.

Ms. Brigance said she chose to participate in the open forum so that others could learn from her story.

"I like having an opportunity to mentor and share my experiences with the other women across the base," she said. "I'm in a pretty unique field for a female. I'm an engineer. So, I like to encourage the other females to decide what it is they want to do with their life and know that they can do it. They have the capability to do anything that they want to do."

The engineer, who has been at Robins for 25 years, said she was glad to share what she had to go through to get to where she is today and help others in that process.

"They need to set goals," she said. "(They need to) try and think about what it is they want to do, where they want to get to in the future. Get with somebody and find out what it is that (you) need to accomplish in order to get there. Then set little mini goals, take baby steps and work your way along until you get to what it is that you're trying to get to."

Renada Bonham, Unit Self Inspection Program manager in the 402nd Software Maintenance Group and Women's History Month Observance Committee chairperson, said the panel discussion, a first-ever of its kind here, was intended to give women a chance to see where other women are coming from and to learn what they do on a day-to-day basis.

"We wanted people to be able to come together from the Robins Air Force Base community and visually see women who sit on our base in different leadership positions, because we do have an SES (Senior Executive Service)," she said. "We have several GS-15s (General Schedule). We have female colonels. We have female chiefs on this base. A lot of people are not aware of that. So, this was to allow people to see who they are and to actually get feedback from them on how they can maybe get to where they are."

Chief Clemons, who shared her experience of coming up in the ranks of security forces, said she hopes women were inspired to achieve their dreams.

"It doesn't matter what obstacle is out there," she said. "Anybody can be successful. Just don't take 'no' for an answer (and) don't let any obstacle (get in your way). It just gives you a different chance to succeed. I came into a career field that wasn't open to women, so I've seen them (women) come a long way."

CoStella Edwards, Integrated Product Team lead for C-5 engines in the 542nd Combat Sustainment Wing who is the point of contact for the event, said she hopes women walked away from the event with a renewed confidence in their ability to succeed.

And Dana Stanley, chief of Quality Assurance and Process Improvement in the 402nd Maintenance Wing, did just that.

"There was lots of good information about how people in comparable positions handle issues from everything like generation gaps to achieving a balance between family and your work," she said. "Basically, it was a chance to look back over your career and understand 'Yeah, that's what I did right and they did the same thing,' or 'No, I didn't do that right."

Mrs. Stanley, who is a GS-15, said the frank conversation gave her insight into others experiences so that she may learn from others' lessons in life and grow even more in her own career.

"I think the women that have been here have been very honest," she said. "They've talked about their experiences, good and bad, and they've really tried to help the folks here that were listening to it to understand and think about what they can aspire to and what they can achieve, how to set goals, and learn the basics of what to do."